In the steamy atmosphere of chaos-wracked Washington D.C., Democrats, media opinion writers and talkers have often complained bitterly about how GOP leaders have failed to police their ranks on the charged issue of race.
But, on Jan. 17, The Washington Post published this headline: “McCarthy’s challenge to Steve King after years of inaction stands as first test for minority leader.”
Under the newly reconstituted Congress, House Minority Leader is now Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, whose district embraces a huge region of East Kern County and dips into Los Angeles County, with an arms-length reach into part of Lancaster.
Here’s the story:
Rep. Steve King, (R-Iowa) had sparked nationwide rage because of his term “white supremacist.” His statements have been strongly labeled as offensive by many Americans.
In recent years, King made repeated statements disparaging immigrants and minorities, as did other Republican members, but leaders chose not to move against them – fearful that taking harsh action would antagonize the party’s conservative base.
King was ushered into McCarthy’s office on Jan. 14. Seated beneath an eight-foot-tall portrait of Abraham Lincoln, he expected to be scolded.
He is an ally of President Trump and a regular guest on conservative media programs. Because of the hullabaloo, King offered to “go quiet,” according to three people.
King, who won his office for nine terms, did not expect his career in congressional politics to effectively end.
But the House Minority Leader had a severe punishment in mind – stripping the representative of all his committee assignments.
He removed King from the House Agriculture, Judiciary and Small Business Committees.
For McCarthy, 53, the hour-long confrontation was a critical moment early in his tenure as the new leader of Republicans in the House, testing whether the easygoing Californian was willing to take on a popular conservative and assert himself in the wake of sweeping GOP defeats in the 2018 elections and the high-profile speakership of Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wisconsin. The GOP lost 40 seats in November.
On a radio interview, McCarthy said, “Party leaders did not act. I just felt, I don’t care if it hurts me or not — I’ve got to just do the right thing.”
McCarthy can expect more challenges – and tense encounters – in the coming months as he deals with a powerful rival in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) who brings decades of experience and a reputation for savvy and at times savage responses to her Republican counterparts.
She already fought one round with President Trump.